This post is a comment on Eisel Mazard’s video entitled Nihilism vs Lauren Southern vs Nihilism.
While Eisel doesn’t provide his own explicit definition of nihilism in the video, he does say that it’s “a critique of belief itself” (around 13:00).
Right away you’re slapped in the face with contradiction, since a belief in nihilism is a belief in something.
For someone that often lambasts others for being idiots, advocating nihilism demonstrates the most basic lack of consistency.
Eisel begins by making the valid point that taking up a belief system to give your life a sense of purpose, without regard to its truth or meaning, is counterproductive.
If it’s not true and its meaning is questionable, the belief system both deceives you and is harmful to a greater or lesser extent eg if you become a devotee of Islam, become convinced that infidels deserve death, then act on that belief.
However he then claims that nihilism has “its own analytical value… even its own ethical value and it makes people’s lives meaningful.”
He also says that because of this, choosing nihilism as a philosophy is “a lot more positive than, for example, joining Islam.”
He reaches this conclusion because that’s how it’s turned out for him.
Adopting nihilism freed him from his desire to believe in something, and his subsequent disappointment when he found these things weren’t true.
Now he could look at things in a detached way, without making a personal commitment to them.
This is a curiously shortsighted view. That is, while he feels his nihilistic frame was of great benefit to him, he doesn’t recognise that the interpretation he gave it and the effect it had on him are not the effects it will have on others.
Pure and positive nihilism
As the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy says, “A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.”
A 2016 article on nihilism and jihadism makes the point that many of the people who committed violence on behalf of IS had a tenuous connection with Islam, which was just “a convenient ideology to attach meaning to their nihilistic fury.”
Stuart Chambers, however, argues that nihilism can also be a positive philosophy, just as Eisel does (the link goes to a blog post that includes Stuart’s article).
Yes, it can be positive if you set aside its basic contradiction and retain some fundamental beliefs (the right ones).
But nihilism isn’t a search for truth. A denial of belief is a denial of truth.
But this is where Eisel muddies the water. He doesn’t make clear (or hasn’t made the distinction himself) that he’s not actually talking about nihilism in its ‘pure’ form, but as positive nihilism.
Postive nihilists like Eisel and Stuart maintain that while life has no overall purpose, value or objective meaning, they aren’t moral nihilists who think morality is pointless.
But on what basis do they claim that morality is valid if life has no purpose, value or meaning? What’s the difference if some people try to end it: whether other people’s lives or their own?
Most people want to live and avoid pain.
But if positive nihilists make this their rational basis, then what they’re saying is that life does have at least some meaning, in living for its own sake and avoiding pain.
In this case, they’d be contradicting their claim that life has no meaning, purpose or value. Although they might seek to modify the claim slightly, so that it becomes, “life has no larger meaning, purpose or value.”
Does this mean that positive nihilism’s essentially the same as existentialism? That is, the philosophy that people can create their own personal meaning of life, even though there’s no greater, overall one?
Truth, meaning and belief
Whatever the case, Eisel believes in the truth: with his critiques of what he thinks is wrong, with his strident defences of what he thinks veganism is, with the pain and suffering he accepts that animals go through as part of their slavery.
Eisel knows he believes in truth, yet he shapes what he thinks nihilism is in what might be the same way he shaped his belief in Buddhism (and the other beliefs he was disappointed by ie he wants to believe in nihilism).
The way in which he talks about nihilism as “a critique of belief itself” is what Ayn Rand called a “package deal”—concepts that are presented together but should be separated out.
In this case, the concepts that are presented together are different forms of belief. As we’ve set out, Eisel believes in the truth. So this belief is valid, and can be added to the other values of wanting to live and avoid pain.
But the beliefs he doesn’t accept are simply those that aren’t true.
In saying that nihilism is “a critique of belief itself,” what Eisel really means is that positive nihilism is a critique of what’s false.
That’s good as far as it goes, but it’s a negative concept that doesn’t include a path of what’s true.
As such, positive nihilism is stunted, since it actively obscures the overall meaning, purpose and value of life.
Why would it be so hard?
Towards the end of his video (around 13:30), Eisel says that, “belief is at the root of such an unbelievable range of aberrant human behaviour, why would it be so hard for people to see that belief is something that needs a cure?”
The answer is that belief is essential in being able to live. You have to be reasonably confident (believe) the food you’re going to eat isn’t poisonous, you have to be confident you can drive a car to use it safely, you want to know if someone can be trusted not to shoot you, bash you, defraud you or rape you…
Given your have good knowledge, these are obviously things that are good to believe. You have to have some well-founded beliefs just to survive, let alone progress.
Eisel doesn’t accept that “the truth is out there” in the languages he speaks, the food he desires and feels satisfied by (at least to some extent), the bridges he drives over, the microphones he speaks into, the video platform that calmly accepts his videos, and his videos that talk about purpose.
These things and many more are staring him in the face, yet he hasn’t yet taken the final step to connect them.
The problem isn’t that there’s nothing to believe in—just that you need to find the right things to believe in.